Belgium / The Netherlands

Languages: Dutch and Frisian

Religions: Roman Catholic 30%, Protestant 20%, Muslim 6%

Population: 17 million

Capital: Amsterdam (Government seated in The Hague)

Mennonites in The Netherlands

Number of Mennonite Congregations: 110

Number of baptized Mennonites: 7,700 = over 12% of European Mennonites. Located mainly in the West and North.

Like to visit The Netherlands?

 Part of the 9000 km Migration Route will pass through this area.

A modest man who helped shape the Mennonite Brotherhood

Author: Marius Romijn

At the beginning of the twentieth century, the influence of liberal protestantism decreased in the Netherlands, while orthodoxy and Catholicism remained stable. Many young liberal pastors struggled with the concepts of 'sin and forgiveness'. They were inspired by the English Quakers, especially the meetings in Woodbrooke; putting Christ and prayer at the centre. Lay people could lead in spiritual matters and in practical tasks.

 

Tjeerd Hylkema was, as a Mennonite student of theology, touched by lay piety, lay people working in the church and by the peace testimony. He contacted other Mennonites about the possibility of introducing these concepts into the Brotherhood. This became the start of the Vereniging voor Gemeentedagen ('Congregational Days Association'), a combination of national and regional meetings, working groups and gradually also conference buildings and camping barracks. Women could fulfill all the roles too, and this revived the brotherhood. Hylkema, the minister of the village of Giethoorn since 1912, was the chairman of this movement for ten years. The Central Mennonite Board ('ADS') started out feeling uneasy about the socialist, feminist, pietistic and orthodox features. The magazine of the Congregational Day Association, 'Brieven' ('letters'), was first published in 1918. Committees focused on  Bible studies, organising summer-camps for young people, pacifism, and other issues.

 

In Giethoorn, Hylkema established a training institute for basket-weaving. He also initiated aid for the Russian Mennonites, who were persecuted heavily after the Revolution of 1917. The booklet he wrote in 1920 De geschiedenis van de doopsgezinde gemeenten in Rusland in de oorlogs- en revolutiejaren 1914 tot 1920 (‘The history of Mennonite congregations in Russia during the war and the revolution 1914-1920’) was reprinted and also published in German. He was a great help during the emigration of hundreds of Russian Mennonites to North- and South-America, via Rotterdam. Help was also organised for impoverished Dutch families after the depression of 1929. During World War II, he organized a transport of Jewish children to London, and aid for refugee camps in the Netherlands.

 

After serving in Giethoorn, he became a minister in Amersfoort and Amsterdam. He served as president of the Dutch Mennonite peace-organization, and worked for the library of the Peace Palace in The Hague. He wrote for the 'Brieven', published several books, and was one of the editors of the Mennonite Hymnbook (1944). His work for the 'Gemeentedagbeweging' strengthened international relations, and helped to widen the goal of the 'ADS'  the 1924; 'enhancement of worship-services' (mainly by supporting the Seminary), was expanded with: Support of material, ethical and religious interests of Mennonites, and representation.

 

Tjeerd Hylkema was a modest man, who in spite of his poor health, could realize many of his ideals. He was a great help to the Dutch Mennonites entering the twentieth century.

 

Reformer

Author: Marius Romijn

Menno entered priesthood in the early years of the Reformation, when the Sacramentists were also on the rise – they rejected the sacrifice of the Mass. As a curate in Pingjum, he doubted the Eucharist miracle,  and started to study the Bible more in-depth. Meanwhile the Anabaptist movement entered the Netherlands. After the beheading of Sicke Freerks, who had been re-baptized, Menno also started having doubts about infant baptism. Still, at the end of 1532 he became a priest in Witmarsum; in this period he was known as an 'evangelical preacher'.

 

The fast-growing Anabaptist movement put emphasis on the Second Coming of the Lord being at hand; the true believers had to live purely and non-violent in a congregation free of sin. An increasing group of Anabaptists, led by Jan Matthijs - later on succeeded by Jan van Leyden - tried to establish the 'New Jerusalem' in the cathedral city of Münster. They managed to overthrow the city council, and all inhabitants had to take up arms against the bishop, who would send an army to recapture the city.

 

After one year, this small Anabaptist kingdom perished in violence. Some people around Menno were involved in Anabaptist violence in Friesland. The Anabaptists where thrown into confusion, and persecution was severe. Menno still had a comfortable life, but felt like 'living in Egypt'. In 1536 he left the Catholic Church, and had to live in hiding. After much consideration and many dialogues, he was baptized.

 

In 1537 Menno accepted a request to become an elder. Gradually he became a leader of the Dutch Anabaptists, and the influence of his rival David Joris decreased. The authorities offered money for his capture. Several persons who had sheltered Menno were executed. He had started to write books and pamphlets, all considered illegal. He had to travel constantly, and finally lived as an exile in Holstein, with his wife Geertruyd and their children.

 

The pure congregation was crucial for the Anabaptists, therefore they used ban and shunning. This was meant to make sinners repent and return. In Emden the influential elder Lenaert Bouwens banned the husband of Swaan Rutgers. This mean she had to avoid all contact with him. She refused, because in doing so, she would break her marriage vows. Menno wanted to come to a settlement, but Lenaert threatened to ban him as well, and Menno yielded. This was the reason for the liberal group of the Waterlanders to branch off. On his deathbed, Menno expressed his regret about 'having been a servant of men, instead of God'.

 

Menno has been a church reformer of the second generation. He was no scholar like Luther, Zwingli or Calvin. As a practical leader, he managed to unite the peaceful Dutch Anabaptists during a stressful period. However, at the end of his life this unity fell apart.

 

Source: Piet Visser, Sporen van Menno. Het veranderende beeld van Menno Simons en de Nederlandse mennisten (in cooperation with the Netherlands, Canada, United States of America and Germany, 1996).

 

 

‘Mennonite Pope’

Author: Annelies Vugts-Verbeek

These days Samuel Muller is viewed as one of the most influential seminary professors in Dutch Mennonite history. In his days he was mocked as the ‘Mennonite Pope’ or ‘Head of the Church’. His growing authority and influence created a strained relationship with the autonomous and anti-authoritarian approach of Dutch Mennonites. In that respect he was more a representative of the spirit of the 19th century than of the liberal Mennonites, who felt comfortable with the (late)18th century spirit.

 

From Krefeld to Amsterdam

Born in Germany, Muller came from Krefeld to Amsterdam (1801) on a scholarship to become a Mennonite minister. He picked up the finer points of the job in the small city of Zutphen (1806), followed by callings in the more prestigious Zaandam-Oostzijde (1809) and Amsterdam (1814). In 1827 he was appointed  Professor at the Seminary, where he had been a board member for several years already. Under his leadership the Dutch Mennonite Seminary became a professional institution. It would eventually be held in  the same esteem as the Dutch Reformed Seminary, which was later to become a part of (the forerunner of) Amsterdam State University.

 

Emancipation

The Dutch Mennonites became more and more educated themselves, and played major roles in Dutch society and cultural life, for instance in institutes and journals. This meant they needed well-trained ministers who could deliver educational and motivating sermons. Ministers, who like their prominent church members, participated in the (leading) cultural networks. These Mennonites felt the need to blend in with society. Their belief differed from the Reformed approach in its anti-dogmatism and the emphasis on the Bible as the ultimate authority, not man.

 

Criticism

Muller's many pupils (for 30plus years he worked at the seminary!) were vehicles for and stimuli to this Mennonite emancipation. However, a few challenged the mainstream Mennonitism that Muller preached. Joost Hiddes Halbertsma (1789-1869) missed the old school liberalism and folklore in Mullers approach and Jan de Liefde (1814-1869) was more orthodox and more of a pietist than Muller. De Liefde left the Mennonites. Others, like part of the congregation in Balk, left the country to exercise their dearly held beliefs elsewhere.

 

Heritage

One might say that Dutch contemporary Mennonites are more heirs to Muller than to Menno. With Muller the Dutch Mennonites entered a new era that would prepare them for late 19th century modernism – a Christian belief that challenged all set dogmas, even the belief in God itself. Muller, almost ninety years old by that time, was appalled at the new theological developments for which he unwittingly had cleared the way.

 

Source: Annelies Verbeek, ‘Menniste Paus’. Samuel Muller (1785-1875) en zijn netwerken, (Hilversum 2005).

Witnesses of the Kingdom of God

Author: Fulco Y. van Hulst

What is peculiar about Dutch Mennonite ethics – and how is it made visible? The Bible passage that was very dear to Menno Simons was 1 Corinth 3:11: 'For no one can lay any other foundation than that which has been laid, which is Jesus Christ.‘ Christ still is the guiding light for ethics from a Mennonite perspective.

 

Sermon on the mount

Mennonite ethics is best characterized as “Sermon on the Mount”-ethics, or as an ethics of following Jesus as the central example of what it means to live a life that pleases God. Particular guidance is found in the sayings of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, as well as in his further teachings and parables. These sayings draw our attention to caring for our neighbor, especially the weak and oppressed, to the love of God that demonstrates itself in the love of others, to overcoming violence and evil and (ultimately) to loving one's enemy These are the practices that are considered to be the measures of a good life. Peace ethics should specifically be considered a characteristic element of Mennonite ethics in Dutch context. A good example would be the way in which Mennonites practiced peace ethics by actively supporting conscientious objectors who did not want to fulfill their mandatory army duty.

 

In the world

The Dutch Mennonite community developed largely in an urban context in close contact with the social-cultural upper class of society. These contacts were much more intensive and often much more peaceful than in other countries in Europe, where Mennonites often lived in a situation of (deliberate) isolation and even persecution and suppression. Through these contacts Dutch Mennonites were able  to spread their message of justice and peace in an active and practical way within society.

Altogether we might say that the focus in Dutch Mennonite ethics is on social ethics: the congregation is considered to be the foretaste of God's Kingdom of Justice and Peace. On the one hand Mennonite congregations try to take practical responsibility in society, by supporting diaconal projects, or by actively profiling themselves as a peace church. On the other hand the Mennonite congregations try to confront society, holding up a mirror, making the reality of The Kingdom of God visible by actively witnessing to the Peace of God in words and deeds.

 

References: World English Bible, 2002.

The new open silhouette church of Witmarsum

Author: Gerke van Hiele

Next to the Menno Simons monument (1878) near Witmarsum, in 2008 an open silhouette church was built. It was initiated by the Frisian Mennonite Monuments Foundation (SDMF) and designed by Joute de Graaf. It shows the silhouette of 'Minne Siemens old meeting-house' which was demolished in 1879. The architect has taken good care not to build a replica of a secluded Mennonite church, but an open structure with space for light, rain and wind.

 

Spirituality

For many visitors this new silhouette church is an invitation to ponder the significance of the Anabaptist tradition. It is part of a meditative pilgrimage at the birthplace of Menno Simons. The starting-point of this route is the Koepelkerk in Witmarsum, the place where Menno left the Roman-Catholic Church and closed the door behind him, a moment which has become a crucial one, showing the Anabaptist tradition as a tradition of renewal. The next station is the old and hidden meeting-place of Pingjum. This building reflects a history of persecution and strife, leading to the Mennonites eventually becoming the 'quiet in the land'. The last station is this open and colourful silhouette church. Here one can sense the inspiration for the future direction of our communities. 

 

Past, presence and future

Witmarsum has finally become a proper place of pilgrimage. Before 2008 foreign tourists and pilgrims came to this place enthusiastically, but they tended to leave slightly disappointed. There was the Menno Simons monument, but now there is also this silhouette church which shows a clear profile of the Mennonite tradition and community. We may build carefully on Jesus' foundation, but we have to be careful how we build (1 Cor 3:11). It is our turn to live our personal and communal life both faithfully and authentically wherever we may be.

 

Anabaptist Characteristics

This  structure with its strong profile may also bring to mind all that we share. For example the Shared Convictions (MWC 2009), but also the characteristic elements of our tradition like baptism, discipleship and work for justice & peace. One could also think of the seven Practices of David Augsburger: radical attachment, stubborn loyalty, tenacious serenity, habitual humility, absolute nonviolence, concrete service, and authentic witness.

 

References: David Augsburger, Dissident discipleship, A spirituality of self-surrender, love of God and love of neighbor, (Grand Rapids 2006). F. Stark, E.J. Tillema (red.) Kracht van een minderheid (Zoetermeer 2011). G.J.J. van Hiele, ‘De zevensprong. Over doperse spiritualiteit’ in: Doopsgezinde Bijdragen DB 34 (2008), pp. 127-152.

Giving time

Author: Lydia Penner

Mennonites in the Netherlands, like the Dutch in general, are very active people. They believe in taking responsibility for their own  lives and for the society they live in. 

Witnessing

There is hardly a profession or trade where Mennonites are not found. At their work-place they can get into discussions about their values. Their children usually go to ordinary public schools rather than to Christian schools because Mennonite parents prefer to teach their own brand of Christianity to their children. Often the only ones in the class with a church connection, these children are sometimes asked about their beliefs and what the church is about.

 

Birthdays

The Mennonite children are involved in sports, music and theatre, activities which support personal development. Yet many are also active in the Sunday school. There they work to raise money for projects at home and abroad. To contribute to an organization supplying birthday boxes to families with a limited income, the children in The Hague, a city on the west coast, prepared goodies to sell after a church service. In the Netherlands it is very important to celebrate your birthday, which includes, for children, offering a treat to classmates.  With these boxes, children in poor families can have a birthday celebration like everyone else.

 

Bicycling

Mennonites of all ages are fervent bicyclists, as the quickest and cheapest way to get around in a crowded country, for the exercise, and from environmental considerations. In Joure, a town in Friesland, young people organized a bicycle trip in the footsteps of Menno Simons, from Witmarsum, where he was born, to Bad Oldesloe, where he died, by which they raised money, through sponsors, for a facility for the handicapped in a nearby community.

 

Volunteers

Like Christians in other churches, parents, seniors and singles are very active in volunteer work, not only in the congregations, but also in the community they live in. For example, they are hosts or hostesses at museums; serve in committees for support of cultural activities; help out in hospitals and care homes by bringing patients to activities and looking after the flowers given them; spend time with people with few contacts; do shopping for the housebound in the neighborhood; help family and neighbors in need - you name it, they’re doing it. Some congregations, like Zaandam, Surhuisterveen, Rottevalle and Drachten, give support and hospitality to refugees in the country.

 

Witnessing

There is hardly a profession or trade where Mennonites are not found. At their work-place they can get into discussions about their values. Their children usually go to ordinary public schools rather than to Christian schools because Mennonite parents prefer to teach their own brand of Christianity to their children. Often the only ones in the class with a church connection, these children are sometimes asked about their beliefs and what the church is about.

 

Birthdays

The Mennonite children are involved in sports, music and theatre, activities which support personal development. Yet many are also active in the Sunday school. There they work to raise money for projects at home and abroad. To contribute to an organization supplying birthday boxes to families with a limited income, the children in The Hague, a city on the west coast, prepared goodies to sell after a church service. In the Netherlands it is very important to celebrate your birthday, which includes, for children, offering a treat to classmates.  With these boxes, children in poor families can have a birthday celebration like everyone else.

 

Bicycling

Mennonites of all ages are fervent bicyclists, as the quickest and cheapest way to get around in a crowded country, for the exercise, and from environmental considerations. In Joure, a town in Friesland, young people organized a bicycle trip in the footsteps of Menno Simons, from Witmarsum, where he was born, to Bad Oldesloe, where he died, by which they raised money, through sponsors, for a facility for the handicapped in a nearby community.

 

Volunteers

Like Christians in other churches, parents, seniors and singles are very active in volunteer work, not only in the congregations, but also in the community they live in. For example, they are hosts or hostesses at museums; serve in committees for support of cultural activities; help out in hospitals and care homes by bringing patients to activities and looking after the flowers given them; spend time with people with few contacts; do shopping for the housebound in the neighborhood; help family and neighbors in need - you name it, they’re doing it. Some congregations, like Zaandam, Surhuisterveen, Rottevalle and Drachten, give support and hospitality to refugees in the country.

 

Community life and public well-being

Author: Alle G. Hoekema

In the 1920s and 1930s the ‘Gemeentedagbeweging’ (Congregational Day Movement), a spiritual renewal movement, built several  retreat centers. These fellowship homes (‘Broederschapshuizen’) fulfill an important role, both for Mennonites and for society in general. They are a special part of the Mennonite identity. Recently, in the Elspeet home, ‘Mennorode’ a new, ecological chapel was built. Another form of fellowship can be found in the so-called ‘Inloophuizen’ i.e. Walk-in houses,  an open house where marginalized or homeless people and refugees without legal identity papers can find a peaceful retreat.

Orphanages, almshouses and schools

During the seventeenth century the Dutch Mennonites founded orphanages, built courtyard almshouses for poor widows, and practiced other forms of support for the destitute. The larger congregations became especially active in these fields. Since the Mennonite orphanages were mostly small, a lot of individual attention could be paid to the orphans. After WW II, the government took over these care institutions. In several cases, the original foundations still exist, helping with needs and activities of young people within society. Only one congregation, Haarlem, had two Mennonite primary schools, which at the beginning of the twentieth century were renowned for their modern teaching methods. They closed  in 1958.

 

Homes for the aged

Some congregations still have one or more almshouse courtyards. In addition, from the1930s onwards, modern homes for elderly people were built. All these homes are now dependent on government regulations and subsidies, which has led to an unfortunate loss of their former Mennonite identity.

 

‘Society for the Propagation of Public Well-Being’

Other fields of social care that Dutch Mennonites were active in were public education and the improvement of public health in poor parts of the big cities. The Society for the Propagation of Public Well-Being (‘Maatschappij tot Nut van ‘t Algemeen’) was founded in 1784 by Mennonites and other social activists. In line with the Enlightenment ideals, the aim of its local branches was education of the people and the spreading of good literature. The input of Mennonites is small nowadays. During the nineteenth century influential Mennonite individuals, especially in Amsterdam, were also involved in the foundation of public bathing houses and other facilities for the working class. When after  WW II the Netherlands became a welfare state, the influence of the church declined rapidly. However, it may well be that  the role of the churches, including Mennonites, in care in society will have to increase again in the future.

The foot washing

Author: Geja Laan
Translator: Machteld Laan 

The ritual of foot washing has never been performed in the Mennonite Congregations that I have served, although I know that in the world wide Mennonite Fellowship it certainly has. Also, I know that for centuries it has been part of the faith- and congregational life of several Mennonites. From discussions I had with various brothers and sisters I understood that foot washing makes people feel uncomfortable.

 

Moving

Still, I very much like to read out John 13: 1-20 on Maundy Thursday, when we celebrate the last supper. This is the story that tells us how Jesus washes the feet of his disciples, while he has the last supper with them. To me, the text has always been inspiring and moving, because, in my opinion, it explains what is important to God and to Jesus: a loving attitude in life, not of ruling, but of serving.

 

Fresh start

When the gospel writer John tells us how Jesus removed his clothes during the meal, Jesus also removed, in my opinion, every possible appearance of status he could have had. Jesus attaches no importance to his own status but only to the things  which really help others. In the story he dresses himself in a linen cloth only and without further ado simply sits down to wash the feet of his disciples, to wash all the dirt literally, and in my opinion also figuratively, off their feet. He gives himself fully to this work: refreshing them so they could make a fresh start. He really wants the best for them.

 

Subservience: a choice

When you are forced to wash someone else's feet, it is a kind of slavery. Too many times especially women have been forced to be a servant and to do things against their will, which is a really hard situation to cope with. But if you choose to be a servant to someone else, it's a form of love, which radiates love, peace and divine beauty. A radiance and beauty no ruler in this world could ever reach.

‘… Freedom in Christian faith…’

Author: Alfred R. van Wijk
Translator: Betty Lavooij-Janzen 

Mennonites practice baptism based on a self-written confession of Faith. To accomplish this, their religious education takes a longer period of time and is offered to young children as well as young people preparing themselves for baptism.

 

No established doctrines

Currently  many congregations offer the preschool children their own Sunday morning service. This is a Sunday School lesson with a theme and little rituals based on picture books containing different themes. Corien van Ark developed a method called ‘Join the circle’ (Kom in de kring) for these lessons. For adults preparing themselves for baptism, catechism meetings are held, often using a method edited by Gerke van Hiele called ‘Touched by the Eternal One’ (Aangeraakt door de Eeuwige). The purpose of this method is not to pass down a written doctrine. Instead, at each meeting a series of Bible passages, songs, discussion items, creative activities and a summary of questions are presented for the members to work with as a group.  Apart from this, there is a short course for those eighteen and older to prepare themselves to be lay preachers in church services.

 

A personally experienced faith

Both methods of Corien van Ark and Gerke van Hiele are aimed at forming a personally experienced faith. In the postwar years material was collected by those concerned with education in faith, especially women. For the Sunday School they contributed children’s books with stories with a key point, and stories for reflection , along with a manual for parents.

 

From passing on knowledge to forming faith

Only since the end of the seventeenth century did parents request the congregation to take care of education in faith. Before this, it was seen as the job of the parents. The teaching material contained  a doctrine to be learned by heart and it also put and emphasis on virtues and on knowledge of the Bible. In the eighteenth century a moderate Enlightenment slowly gained more influence on the education in faith. Mennonites had a prominent position in this development because in their study material they had already included the connection between the natural sciences and knowing God. In the next century, modernism, which developed under the influence of academic Bible criticism, pointed the catechism in a more liberal direction. This liberalism which promotes a personally experienced faith and an individual interpretation of faith, sets the tone of education in faith to this day.

Dutch Mennonites and Politics

Author: Gabe G. Hoekema

These days many Mennonites are involved in humanitarian aid work, and environmental and poverty issues. For a long time however, it was strongly believed that the church only called for  its members to form a community through catechismal teachings. Therefore Mennonites kept their distance from what happened in the (political) world. At the end of the eighteenth century, however, dissenters and patriotic Mennonites got involved with militant voluntary movements. They also became members of the First National Parliament. In the nineteenth century they got assimilated into society, but even in  the twentieth century it was not done to openly debate political ideologies. Even when the Nazis attacked and occupied the Netherlands, the Dutch Mennonites stayed silent. In the Mennonite weekly De Zondagsbode, we find barely any written pieces opposing Nazism. Only a minority of people addressed the worrying phenomenon of a variety of church members and ministers sympathising with Nazism and admiring Hilter for his socio-economic policy.

 

Vietnam and nuclear weapons

After the 1960s politics became more important. In Dutch society the Vietnam War and the threat of nuclear weapons were ardently debated. The central question for Mennonites was how to practice and promote peace and non-violence.

 

Mennonites and the  ‘polder model’

Dutch Mennonites live in a country where consensus plays a big part in the decision-making process. In order to make important decisions and share responsibilities, political movements and churches need counter-movements. The idea behind this 'poldermodel' is to find compromise-based solutions, not to polarise. Nowadays church members focus on what unites them versus what divides them when it comes to political issues. In church decision are made by consensus. Mennonites also have a strong tendency towards ecumenical thinking.

 

Christian Politics

Currently there are several Christian political movements in the Netherlands. Mennonites, however, have never organised themselves into a specific Mennonite political party. Many of them prefer to vote for either a liberal party or a social-democratic program. A minority swings between these parties, and only a few are inspired by more radical, mostly left wing ideas. Themes like climate-change and sustainability of earth and society are also important to the Mennonite voter.

Nevertheless, Mennonites have been active in parliament and some of them were members of government. The most famous Mennonite politicians are C. Lely (1854-1929) whose name is forever linked to the Afsluitdijk, a major causeway which connects the provinces of North-Holland and Friesland. Another Mennonite politician was S. van Houten (1837 – 1930) who initiated a law against child labour. More recent politicians are D. Tommel (1942-) and mayor of Almere, Mrs. A. Jorritsma-Lebbink (1950-).

 

References: C. van Duin, ‘De doperse gemeente – een politiek relevante zaak’, in: Doopsgezinde Bijdragen 2 (Amsterdam 1976), 62-71; E.I.T. Brussee-van der Zee, ‘De Doopsgezinde Broederschap en het nationaalsocialisme, 1933-1940’, in: Doopsgezinde Bijdragen 11 (Amsterdam 1985), pp. 118-130.

Nonresistance or defense

Authors: Marius Romijn, Pieter Post

Dutch Mennonites can make the individual choice whether to cooperate in state sanctioned violence or not. In Menno Simons' era this was different. Since then the Mennonite attitude towards violence has changed considerably.

Münster or Menno?

Menno was opposed to the Münster Anabaptists, who had taken over the City Council in 1534. When the city of Münster was in danger of being recaptured by the Catholic bishop, some thousands of armed Dutch Anabaptists set off to defend the 'New Jerusalem'. According to the Münsterites, an Era of Revenge had begun in which the believers had to take up the sword. Christ's Kingdom of Peace would be established in the next era.

 

Nonviolent Mennonites sometimes supported the State

To Menno and his followers, the government had a God-given task: 'Protection of the weak, and defense of faith'. They themselves were nonresistant, but governments could use violence as part of this God-give task. In a besieged city, Mennonites would not fight, but could help by extinguishing fires or repairing damage. In 1572 Waterlander Mennonites delivered money to William of Orange for the defense against the Spaniards, and in 1672 different Mennonite denominations invested time and effort into reinforcing the Dutch army.

 

Separation of Church and State

In the end of the 18th century dissident and patriotic Mennonites became actively involved in the Government.  Influenced by the French Revolution they strove for equal rights. Together with the remonstrants and other enlightened theologians, they took part in the first National Parliament which had the separation of Church and State in preparation. Jacob Henrik Floh (1758-1830) was the first Mennonite pastor who took office as a secretary of State. He pleaded for equal rights, in particular for Jews who were treated as outcasts. For 19th century Mennonites the separation of Church and State (1848) was not self-evident. Some Seminary-students participated in a violent revolt which ultimately divided the United Netherlands into Belgium and the Netherlands (1830). At the same time entire congregations emigrated abroad, to escape the military draft (1853).

 

In the 20th century the principle of non-violence became a live issue again through the Mennonite ‘Working Group Against Military Service’ (1925). They later became the Mennonite Peace Group (1946) which supported many young men (mennonite or not) during their process of conscientious objection (CO). Since 1923 the State-Government allowed CO-ers, but in present times the military draft is postponed (1997).

 

Reference: Alle G. Hoekema e.a., Dagboek Cor Inja. Geen cel ketent deze dromen (Hilversum 2001). Picture: S. Groenveld e.a., Wederdopers, menisten, doopsgezinden in Nederland 1530-1980, (Zutphen 1980),174.